TRAVELLING NATURALIST TRIP REPORT

Isles of Scilly

27 September - 4 October 2003


Leaders:
Will Wagstaff
Phil Read

PROGRAMME

Saturday 27 September

Fine weather enabled us to arrive on time in Scilly. As usual our first evening was spent attending Will's slide show. A fine introduction to the wildlife of the islands.

Sunday 28 September. Weather: Bright and sunny with light winds.

We were blessed with fine weather for our first day exploring these lovely islands. We started on St Mary's walking around the lanes and nature trails. Apart from an obvious passage of Swallows and Martins and a brief Wryneck, only seen by Will, migrants were hard to find until we reached Porth Hellick Pool. Here the Lesser Yellowlegs showed why it is so named. Other waders on the pool included Greenshank and Dunlin. Being Sunday the airfield was devoid of aircraft allowing a Dotterel and Buff-breasted Sandpiper to feed together in peace, an interesting pair of birds originating from so far apart. Walking home via Peninnis Head we were treated to very close views of a Lapland Bunting.

Monday 29 September. Weather: Partly cloudy, very light winds.

Another fine day enabled us to enjoy the delights of Tresco. As usual the Great Pool held a variety of interesting species including a flock of around 40 Greenshank and a few Black-tailed Godwits. The southeast corner proved even more productive with the American Black Duck showing well and an American Pectoral Sandpiper rather more distantly. Searching the muddy shores at the reed edge proved highly productive with Green Sandpiper, Spotted Crake and Jack Snipe all being found. In the afternoon the group split in two as some explored the world famous gardens whilst others birdwatched on the eastern side of the island.

Tuesday 30 September. Weather: Dry and bright. Light to moderate S to SE winds.

Another day, another island. The beautiful island of St Agnes was at its best in the sunshine. As usual the weed covered beaches held a variety of waders and plenty of Rock Pipits feeding on the abundant insects. Fortunately the two main birds we had hoped to see were both in attendance. The Rose- coloured Starling, albeit in nondescript juvenile plumage, gave excellent views feeding amongst the cows. The star bird of the day, in rarity value if not beauty, was the Booted Warbler watched busily feeding with a few Willow Warblers in a field of Fat Hen.

Wednesday 1 October. Weather: Cloudy in morning, rain in afternoon. Windy.

The weather forecast was poor as we set out to explore parts of St Mary's we hadn't previously visited. We started well with a Wryneck giving prolonged views on Peninnis Head. We ventured as far as Porth Hellick Pool where again the Lesser Yellowlegs showed well. At this point the weather started to deteriorate and we headed for home allowing those who were suffering withdrawal symptoms to head for the shops.

Thursday 2 October. Cloudy at first becoming bright. Moderate SE winds.

Bryher is a lovely island in fine weather and after a poor start to the day the sun shone enabling us to enjoy the fine views from the northwest of the island. As we were strolling along beside the small pool adjacent to the Hell Bay Hotel we flushed a warbler from beside the path. Perplexed as to its identity but immediately realizing it was something rather different Will went off in pursuit. The bird was only seen in flight, five times, but Will was happy this was the first Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler for the Isles of Scilly. An exciting if rather frustrating find.

Friday 3 October. Bright then cloudy. Light to moderate N winds.

The Spring tides early in the week had prevented the "Seabird Special" taking place but conditions were fine for a cruise on our last day. Boating around the shores of Samson and Tresco there were plenty of waders roosting on the rocks. As we ventured out into deeper water off Round Island sea conditions became "interesting" for a while but we all enjoyed the lovely scenery and fine variety of birds seen from the boat including around thirty Little Egrets a few Sandwich Terns and seventy Sanderling.

The afternoon was spent exploring St Martins. As usual there were a few migrants around the cricket pitch, including Pied and Spotted Flycatcher and an early Black Redstart. The highlights of the day happened as we waited for the boat to St Mary's. Off the quay Will found the Black Duck swimming with a flock of Mallard and then our attention was taken by a seal on a nearby rock. We immediately identified this as a Common Seal, probably the first confirmed record for the islands.

SPECIES NOTES

BIRDS

Little Grebe: One on Porth Hellick Pool.

Gannet: Seen daily around the islands in relatively small numbers.

Cormorant: Seen daily around the island in small numbers.

Shag: Very common. Often seen in large flocks.

Grey Heron: This species does not breed on the islands but is a surprisingly common visitor. At least twenty seen during the "Seabird Special" on 3rd.

Little Egret: Around thirty birds were present on the islands. Mainly seen on the rocks between Tresco and Bryher and during the "Seabird Special".

Spoonbill: Three birds which arrived on Tresco the previous evening paid a short visit to St Mary's on 3rd and were seen by Christine and Robert during their pre-breakfast walk.

Mute Swan: Only seen on Tresco.

Canada Goose: The usual four on Tresco.

Wigeon: Two on the Great Pool on 29th and two at Porth Hellick on 1st.

Gadwall: Seen on the Great Pool and at Porth Hellick.

Teal: Seen on the Great Pool and at Porth Hellick.

Mallard: Common on the Great Pool. A few seen elsewhere including on the sea.

Black Duck: We enjoyed good views of this American vagrant on the Great Pool on 29th. We also found it amongst a flock of Mallard swimming off St Martin's on 3rd.

Sparrowhawk: One on St Mary's on 28th. Two Tresco on 29th.

Kestrel: Difficult to know how many different migrant Kestrels we saw altogether but at least two or three seen each day.

Peregrine: After a few briefs sightings earlier in the week those of us on the pre-breakfast walk on 3rd were treated to a hunting bird at Porthloo. After downing an Oystercatcher, but falling to catch it, the bird tried for something smaller which it promptly tore to shreads on a nearby rock.

Red-legged Partridge: Released birds, (which we are not really meant to count) seen on Tresco.

Pheasant: Very common on Tresco, where bred to shoot. A few on St Mary's.

Water Rail: We enjoyed excellent views including a bird on Tresco devouring its latest kill, which looked like a sparrow.

Spotted Crake: Prolonged, if not rather distant, views of a bird on Tresco on 29th.

Moorhen: Common on Tresco and St Mary's.

Coot: Common on Great Pool and at Porth Hellick.

Oystercatcher: Widespread and common around the coasts.

Lapwing: One migrant on St Mary's on 28th.

Grey Plover: Three seen from the boat during the "Seabird Special".

Ringed Plover: Common and widespread around the coasts.

Dotterel: One on the airfield on 28th.

Black-tailed Godwit: Four on the Great Pool on 29th.

Bar-tailed Godwit: One on Bryher on 2nd. About ten seen during the "Seabird Special" on 3rd.

Whimbrel: One seen by Lynn on her pre breakfast walk on 28th was the only sighting.

Curlew: Common around the shores. About ninety seen during the "Seabuird Special".

Redshank: Highest counts were on the Great Pool where there were around thirty.

Greenshank: Highest counts were on the Great Pool where there were around fourty.

Lesser Yellowlegs: One of the star birds of the trip. This American vagrant at Porth Helick

certainly lived up to its name with a dazzling leg colour.

Green Sandpiper: One on the Great Pool on 29th and 2nd.

Turnstone: Seen daily around the rocky shorelines.

Common Snipe: Generally seen in ones or twos most days.

Jack Snipe: WE had prolonged but distant views on the Great Pool on 29th. Far closer views there on 2nd .

Sanderling: Two at Porthloo on 3rd. About seventy roosting on rocks off St Martin's on 3rd.

Little Stint: Two juvenile birds on the Abbey Pool, Tresco on 29th.

Pectoral Sandpiper: This is one of the more regular American waders to reach our shores. One the Great Pool on 29th and again on 2nd.

Dunlin: Migrant birds seen in small numbers throughout the week.

Curlew Sandpiper: Two on the Abbey Pool on 29th.

Buff-breasted Sandpiper: Another visitor from North America. This bird was on the airfield with the Dotterel, a visitor from the east. (They seemed to get on OK!).

Herring Gull: Very common and widespread.

Lesser Black-backed Gull: This gull which breeds commonly on the islands was seen daily.

Great Black-backed Gull: Seen daily in smaller numbers than the previous two species.

Black-headed Gull: This species does not breed on the islands. Seen daily in small groups.

Sandwich Tern: At least four seen between the islands on 28th. Two near St Martins on 3rd.

Stock Dove: Highest count was two on Tresco.

Wood Pigeon: Common and widespread.

Collared Dove: Common and widespread.

Kingfisher: Up to two were seen briefly on three days.

Hoopoe: A nice surprise to see in the autumn. One was seen in flight and then perched in a pine tree during the pre-breakfast walk on 30th.

Wryneck: We all missed the one Will saw on St Mary's on 28th but enjoyed the bird that gave prolonged views on Peninnis on 1st.

Skylark: Two migrants heard, and seen briefly, on Peninnis on 1st.

Sand Martin: Noticeable passage on 28th. A few others throughout the week.

Swallow: Noticeable passage on a number of days.

House Martin: Noticeable passage on 28th. A few others throughout the week.

Yellow Wagtail: One heard and seen briefly on St Mary's on 28th.

Pied/White Wagtail: Migrant birds seen daily, mainly o the beaches. Most birds appeared to be of the White continental race.

Grey Wagtail: Migrant birds seen on four days. Highest count was three 0n 29th.

Meadow Pipit: Noticeable influx, particularly during the second part of the week.

Rock Pipit: Common on the rocky shores. As usual the St Agnes birds showed the uncharacteristic paler legs.

Wren: Widespread and vocal.

Dunnock: Common and widespread.

Blackbird: Very common resident.

Song Thrush: As always delightfully tame. Appeared even commoner than usual.

Robin: Seen daily.

Black Redstart: One on St Martin's on 3rd.

Common Redstart: Two on St Agnes on 30th.

Whinchat: Migrant birds seen on a few days with at least eight on St Martin's on 3rd.

Stonechat: Very common and visible resident.

Wheatear: Migrant birds seen daily in small numbers.

(Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler: An interesting looking warbler was flushed from beside the path on Bryher on 2nd and promptly flew into an area of dense bracken. Hunted down, in brambles and bracken, by Will as we all watched from the comfort of the path, the bird was seen five times in flight. Will managed to see many of the characteristics of this very rare vagrant from the east. Some of us on the path clearly saw the distinctive large wedged shaped tail. Unfortunately the bird was never seen perched and could not be found by birders looking later in the day. We await the thoughts of the BBRC.) (If accepted, this would be a first for the Travelling Naturalist in Britain).

Reed Warbler: One seen briefly on Tresco on 29th. One heard briefly on St Agnes on 30th.

Booted Warbler: One of the rarest birds of the trip, if not the most attractive. After a little patience we were rewarded with good views of this vagrant from the east in a field of Fat Hen on St Agnes on 30th. (A first for the Travelling Naturalist in Britain).

Willow Warbler: Seen most days in small numbers.

Common Chiffchaff: Seen most days in small numbers. Some birds singing.

Blackcap: seen on three days in very small numbers.

Common Whitethroat: Only one sighting.

Goldcrest: Heard and occasionally seen most days.

Spotted Flycatcher: Seen on four days in very small numbers.

Pied Flycatcher: Seen on four days in small numbers.

Great Tit: Common and widespread.

Blue Tit: Moderately common on St Mary's and Tresco.

Magpie: Jack saw the one and only on Tresco on 29th.

Carrion Crow: Common around the islands. Two birds seen showed the characteristics of being Hooded Crow/Carrion Crow hybrids.

Raven: Four were seen on Tean, from St Martin's on 3rd.

Rose-coloured Starling: A juvenile bird showed well feeding with cows on St Agnes on 30th.

Common Starling: Widespread and common.

Lapland Bunting: We enjoyed excellent close views of one on the track on Peninnis on 28th.

Chaffinch: Only seen in small numbers on Tresco and St Mary's.

Greenfinch: Common and widespread.

Goldfinch: Common and widespread.

Linnet: Very common.

Common Crossbill: Those who ventured into the Abbey Gardens on 29th were rewarded with the site of two perched on flower heads.

House Sparrow: Very common.

MAMMALS

Western Hedgehog: As well as the usual splattering of road casualties one was seen alive on St Mary's. It didn't look in the prime of health and its location in the Health Centre car park may not have been a coincidence!

Lesser White-toothed Shrew: Deceased (now in the possession of Phil).

Common Seal: On the 2nd Will was were informed by Joe Pender, one of the boatman, of the presence of an "interesting" seal on St Martins. On our visit the next day we managed to obtain good views and identify it as a Common Seal. This was probably the first confirmed sighting for the islands.

Grey Seal: Only a few sightings of this seal which breeds on the islands.

Brown Rat

Rabbit

AMPHIBIANS

Common Frog

BUTTERFLIES

Large White

Clouded Yellow

Small Copper

Peacock

Red Admiral

Painted Lady

Small Tortoiseshell

Speckled Wood

MOTHS

Hummingbird Hawk Moth

Convolvulus Hawk Moth caterpillar (huge green thing)

DRAGONFLIES

Common Darter

My thanks, as always, to Will for his excellent leadership and sharing his vast knowledge of the islands with us.

Phil Read

October 2003


© The Travelling Naturalist 2003